HISTORY OF LEBANON
The country we now call Lebanon is located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Middle East, which happens to be in Asia.
For the people of the Mediterranean, Lebanon is in the area where the sun rises. It was decided that this eastern section of the Sea will be called the Levant. So, everyone can call the Lebanese Levantines just like the Greeks and the Egyptians.
Lebanon is a very small country, perched on 2 mountainous ranges called the Lebanon and the anti-Lebanon, with a valley in the middle named the Beka'a. It is bordered by Syria in the North and East, by Israel in the South, and the Mediterranean Sea in the West. Unlike the rest of the Middle East, Lebanon is a very "green" country, with lot's of flowers and trees and small rivers. There is no desert in Lebanon, just lot's of rocky mountains.
The Stone Age -- a long time ago -180,000 years
Lebanon has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years. River banks were the natural high-ways of prehistoric people. They moved along the Litani, Nahr Ibrahim, Nahr el-Kalb and Nahr Beirut rivers in search of food, hunting, fishing and gathering roots, wild plants and fruit. The only weapon they had were branches and stones, which they used to defend themselves and to kill wild animals. Lions, tigers, wolves, rhinoceros, gazelles, goats, bears and foxes roamed the mountains, forests and the inland and coastal plains.
They took shelter in the caves of the mountains overlooking the entire coast. The discovery of fire allowed them to heat themselves, cook meat, have light at night and frighten away wild animals for the first time. They learned to chip the stones they used as weapons and tools in order to make them sharper and more pointed. These people were known as Neanderthals.
About 80,000 years ago, the Neanderthals disappeared, and their place was taken by Homo Sapiens, the modern human species. They also lived in caves, but produced a greater variety of stone tools.
The Beginnings of Agriculture -- about 7,000 years ago
People understood that seeds falling in the ground grew into plants. They cultivated the land near their caves and sowed crops. They domesticated dogs, sheep and goats. They kept their grain harvest in storage jars made out of clay. Now that they started organizing their food supplies, they spent less time hunting, and started decorating their tools. With the discovery of Copper, people started coming up with new tools and weapons, and also started creating personal decorative items to hold their clothes together. Jewelry became very much sought after.
Gradually, people moved away from their caves and settled in the plains where they had more space for cultivation. Here, near their fields, they built their shelters, their first houses.
The first villages began to appear. The new houses were round or oval. Walls were made of mud mixed with straw. The floors were made of beaten earth, sometimes covered with crushed limestone, and rested on foundations made of large pebbles gathered from the surrounding area. Villages were scattered along the coast, in the mountains, and in the plain now called the Beka'a.
Birth of the City-State -- about 4,800 years ago
The people living along the Lebanese coast during this period called themselves Canaanites, and belonged to Semitic tribes which had spread throughout the Middle East. Others often referred to them as Phoenicians. Trade with Egypt developed. To travel between Egypt and Lebanon faster and easier, the Phoenicians invented the boat. These boats carried cedar, pine and fir wood as well as jars of olive oil. The boats came back laden with Nubian gold, linen, ropes and grains.
The growth of barter trade, by sea as far away as the Nile (in Egypt), and by land as far as Mesopotamia (Iraq), transformed the little village of Gubla (later referred to as Byblos) into a city-state. Metal workers, potters, soldiers and fishermen lived and worked side by side.
City-states were always located by a harbor or on a trade route, and were often surrounded by fertile land where smaller villages grew up. A stone rampart safeguarded the town from jealous neighbors. Each city had its own king and priests.
The Phoenicians - Kings of Mediterranean Trade
The Phoenicians sailed west and set up trading settlements throughout the Mediterranean. They brought back copper from Cyprus, tin from Spain and ivory from Africa. The seafaring people of Sur (one of the Phoenician city-state) collaborated with their new neighbors, the Hebrews. Together they brought back gold, silver and spices from Arabia and Ethiopia, by way of the Red Sea.
The Phoenicians were good craftsmen and their skilled work was highly prized. They crafted gold, silver, bronze, ivory and wood. They invented glass, and produced jewelry. They were excellent builders and helped the Hebrews build King Solomon's temple and palace. These men were known as the "Free Masons" as they were not the "property" of any King. They were also called on to decorate many palaces in Mesopotamia.
In Sur and Sidon, a shellfish called the murex was processed to obtain a dye called the Tyrian purple. That color -known as Urjuwan- was used to mark royalty.
As they had to deal with many people around and about the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians needed a simple system to write down their business deals. So they invented a set of 22 symbols, which composed the first alphabet of the World. The Phoenician alphabet was written from right to left. The ancient Greeks based their alphabet on the one that was taught to them by the Phoenicians. Their most famous teacher was Prince Cadmus, brother of Princess Europa of Tyre who gave her name to the Continent. The Greeks changed the writing order from left to right. Many other alphabets derived from the Phoenician one, and kept the order from right to left, such as the Arabic alphabet.
They engraved their documents in stone and wood, and often recorded their transactions and letters on papyrus paper. Gubla, the city where the alphabet was discovered, traded a lot with paper. The Greeks called this paper Byblos, and -at the time of Alexander The Great- started referring to Gubla as Byblos. Byblos later on gave its name to the first holy book, the "Bible".
The Phoenician cities were prosperous Sea ports, coveted by many people of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Often, to escape an invasion, the Phoenicians took refuge in some of their trading settlements, that gradually became colonies.
There were so many invaders! First the Egyptians, led by their Pharaoh Akhenaton, then the Hittites who came from the north -around Turkey-, then the Egyptians' armies of the Pharaoh Ramses, the Assyrians who ruled further east in Mesopotamia, then the Babylonians from Mesopotamia again, under the leadership of king Nebuchadnezzar, the Persians with King Cyrus, the Greeks with their Macedonian King -Alexander the Great- and, of course the Romans with General Pompey and Caesar.
All these invasions happened in the part of history referred to as B.C. or Before Christ.
One of the colonies sprung out of the Motherland -as the Phoenicians around the Mediterranean called Lebanon- is Cartage, in Tunis, North Africa. This famous city that grew to challenge Rome was founded by Elissa, princess of Sur. According to the legend, the African King told her he will give her as big a land as the skin of a bull. Princess Elissa had the bull skin cut into very thin strips, and used them to line out the perimeter of her new city, which in Phoenician is Quart-Hadesht. Cartage's fame is mostly credited to Hanibaal who's army crossed the European Alps with his elephants. After Rome defeated Hanibaal, he took refuge in Lebanon, showing that links between the colonies and the motherland were very strong.
The Phoenicians were great adventurers, they explored all of the Mediterranean, went out of it into the Atlantic Ocean, travelled along the Atlantic European Coast, establishing colonies along the way. They also circled around Africa, all the way back to Egypt. Legend has it that they even came to the Americas, but could not repeat their adventure. Maybe that was the origin of the Legend of Atlantis!
Under the Roman Empire
The Romans conquered the Phoenician cities about 64 BC. They divided up their empire into administrative regions called provinces. The Phoenician coast, mountains and the Beka'a were included in a vast eastern region called Syria.
The Romans were great builders. They built a lot of cities from scratch, or added many important buildings in existing ones, such as temples, theaters, arenas, porticos, and public baths. They also established a network of roads, spotlighted by milestones, throughout their provinces.
Heliopolis in Roman -or Baalbeck, in Phoenician- was founded at a crossroads of the caravan routes, in the Beka'a. Heliopolis is the "City of the Sun", and was constructed using the biggest man-made stones of the world. Some of the stones used were so big, that story-tellers started referring to Baalbeck as the city built by the giants. In reality, Baalbeck was originally designed to be a retirement center for Roman Warriors. But the Romans had to impress the local citizens of their empire, as the Phoenicians were also renown builders in antiquity.
The city of Beryte -Beirut- became the capital of the entire coastal region. Beirut was a famed University center of the Roman empire. It is not by accident that the first Law School ever was founded in Beirut.
During this period, Jesus was born in Palestine. The Phoenicians of Sidon and Sur were amongst the first Christians.
The Byzantine Empire -- 395 AD
Most Phoenicians became Christians during the first centuries of our Era. However, the Roman Empire was still pagan, and Christianity was not recognized by the officials of the Empire.
Legend has it that Empress Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine was a devout Christian, and that he promised her to convert to Christianity if she were to find the Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem and tell him the same day. Jerusalem is far from Constantinople (Istanbul, in Turkey), so Empress Helen traveled by land through today's Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon to reach Galilee and Judea. On her way, she posted guards on high points. On the day the Cross was found, a bonfire was lit from Jerusalem as a signal. The guards she posted followed her example, and served as relays until the message reached the Emperor. Not only did Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, but he made it the official state religion of the Empire. With his conversion, a new calendar was adopted, with the first year estimated to be the one of the birth of Jesus-Christ.
In 395, the Roman Empire split into a Western and Eastern Empire. The Eastern Empire became known as Byzantine, and was the only part of the former Roman Empire that lasted. Its capital was Constantinople, and religion was known as Orthodox. Lebanon was part of this Empire, and continued to enjoy a period of prosperity brought on by its strategic location on the Silk Route. That famed road brought on silk and spices from as far away as China into Europe.
Early in the 4th century, a series of earthquakes and tidal waves ravaged Lebanon, destroying many buildings and cities both on the shore and in the Beka'a. Beirut so far has been destroyed 6 times by the sea, and rebuilt again.
At that time, a hermit named Marun lived in the mountains north-east of Antioch. After his death, his followers became known as the Maronites.
The Islamic Conquests -- 635 AD
Around 610, a man named Muhammad began to preach a new religion, Islam in Mecca in the Arabian peninsula. In 622, the Prophet fled with his followers from Mecca to Medina (both in Saudi Arabia), and that year marked the 1st year of the Moslem calendar, known as the Hegira.
When the Prophet died, Moslems chose a religious and political leader called a Caliph. They expanded their territory through many wars known as Jihad, or holy war. One of the first regions they conquered are the "northern territories" or El-Sham of the Arabic peninsula. In conquering Lebanon, the Moslems fought the Christian armies of Byzantium, whom they called the Roumis. The Byzantines were defeated, and retreated further north. Lebanon was made part of the Sham territory of the Islamic Empire. Islam became the Law and official religion of the land. Christians and Jews were allowed to worship as long as they paid taxes to the Moslems, and obeyed their laws. Arabic became the official language of the region.
In 656 AD, the cousin and son in-law of the Prophet battled for the title of Caliph. Ali, the son-in-law became caliph until he was assassinated 5 years later. Mu'aa'wyah, the cousin, succeed to Ali. However, the Moslems spilt into Shi'ites -as people called the followers of Ali- and Sunnites, led by Mu'aa'wyah. In becoming Caliph, Mu'aa'wyah founded the Umayyad Dynasty in 661 AD, and set the capital of his Empire to be Damascus, in Syria.
On the Christian side, the Maronites broke away from the Byzantine Church in 680 AD, appointed their own patriarch, who lived in the Orontes Valley. In 685, the Byzantines overrun the Valley and burnt the Monastery of Mar Marun -the Patron Saint of the Maronites- The Maronite patriarch transferred his Church headquarters to the Mountains of Lebanon, by the Qadisha Valley.
The Abbassides dynasty succeed to the Umayyad in 750 AD, and moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad, in Iraq. Life in Bilad-el-Sham (northern countries) became harsher as the Abbassides levied higher taxes and imposed tougher laws. Trade with other Mediterranean regions suffered. To strengthen their presence in the region, the Abbassides encouraged Arab tribes to settle in Beirut and the surrounding area, called the Gharb (west). But the power of the Abbasside Caliphate diminished, and a new dynasty, descendent from the Prophet's own daughter Fatima declared its independence from Baghdad in 969 AD. The Fatimides settled in Egypt and extended their authority to the costal region of Bilad-el-Sham and Damascus. Contrary to the Umayyad and the Abbassides who were Sunnites, the Fatimides were Ismaili Shi'ites.
Around 986, under the Fatimid Caliph El-Hakim, a new religion was born and spread by a man called Darazi. This was the beginning of the Druze religion. Many families in the regions of Gharb, Matn, Shuf and Wadi el-Taym became Druze. But from 1030 AD, a person could only be Druze if born Druze.
In 1054 AD, the Great Christian Schism occurred, with the Church of Rome and Constantinople splitting from one another. The Christians of Lebanon were part of the Eastern Church of Antioch, and fell under the authority of the Church of Constantinople. At that time, all the Christians of the East were called the Melchites, except for the Maronites.
In 1055 AD, the Seljuks overthrew the Abbassides in Baghdad, and took back Damascus, the Beka'a and the Holy Cities of Palestine from the Fatimids. The Seljuks and the Fatimids fought for control of the Eastern shores of Bilad-el-Sham.
The Crusades -- 1096-1291 AD
The Seljuks did not respect the tradition of hospitality towards the Christians of the regions and the Pilgrims to the Holy Places. They even extended their authority at the expense of the Byzantines, and threatened Constantinople. All the Christians of the region appealed to the Pope of Rome who called on the Princes of Europe to free the Holy Land. Hence, in 1096, the first Crusade set off to conquer Jerusalem and the riches of the Orient.
The Crusaders fought the Seljuks with the help of the Byzantines. They first freed Antioch (in Turkey) then pushed south towards Lebanon. The Crusaders were better known as the Franks or Franjs as the Arab called them. In 1099, they re-conquered Jerusalem, and founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem which also included Beirut, Sayda and Sur. The Seljuks remained in Damascus, and continued to try to reconquer the land ruled by the Crusaders. So the Crusaders built many forts in Lebanon and Palestine to organize their defense. Trade flourished again on the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, when the Crusaders conquered Tripoli, they burnt the famous library of Dar el-Ilm with all of its precious manuscripts. In the old times, libraries were very rare, and often contained unique books that were never copied or reproduced.
In all there were eight crusades over a period of two centuries. The most famous Crusaders were:
Comte Raymond de Saint-Gilles (who founded the Sanjil Castle over Tripoli),
Frederick Barbarossa, better known as Frederick RedBeard,
King Richard the Lion Heart of England,
King Baudouin IX of France -- known as al-Bardawil
Frederick II from Germany, and Saint Louis or King Louis IX of France.
The End of the Crusades -- 1187 AD
In 1171, a man named Salah el-Dine el-Ayyubi took power in Egypt, and founded the Ayyubide Dynasty. He was a Sunnite Kurd raised in Baalbeck, so many called him Salah el-Dine El-Kurdi. He was the first Moslem to re-conquer some of the land lost to the Crusaders. He was a very respected man. He even sent out his doctor to treat his enemy, Richard the Lion Heart, King of England, who was leading the Third Crusade.
In 1250, the Mameluks, former slaves from Turkey, took power from the Ayyubides in Egypt and founded their own Dynasty. They were staunch Sunni Moslems, and forced many to convert to Islam. Some non-Sunnites practiced dissimulation, pretending to be Sunnite to hide their real religious beliefs.
In 1292, the Mameluks drove out the Crusaders who took refuge in Cyprus, and tried in vain for a full century to regain the territory they had lost.
The Mameluks reorganized their territory into administrative sectors, and entrusted the government of these areas to a local ruler who was given the title of Emir (Prince), or Sheikh (Count), depending on his importance. To facilitate communication, the Mameluks used beacon fires, horses and carrier pigeons. Soldiers kept watch of the coast from towers called burj.
The Crusaders learnt a lot from the rich civilization of the Middle East, in terms of construction, home building, agricultural irrigation and processes, medicine, chemistry, physics, and astrology to name but a few. Even the numbers they took back to Europe are called today "Arabic" numbers. This knowledge set the basis of what became later on the European Renaissance, that is at the root of today's modern civilization.
The Ottoman Empire -- 1300-1918 AD
In 1300, a Turk of Mongol origin founded the Ottoman Empire and took power from the Seljuks. The Ottomans captured Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul then set on south and took the Lebanese and Syrian territories from the Mameluks in 1516.
The Ottoman Sultan ruled from his palace in Istambul. The administrative division of the empire was the same as that of the Mameluks. Under him came the Wali, then the Emir, the Sheikh and then the peasants.
In 1590, a prince called Emir Fakhr el-Dine from the Lebanese family of Ma'an became the third Ma'an emir to govern the Emirate of the Shuf. Ambitious but wise, he set out to enlarge and enrich his emirate, and surrounded himself with Christian, Druze and Moslems advisors. He succeed in annexing the Beka'a, Sayda, the Kesrwan and Beirut.
Emir Fakhr el-Dine was such a small man that his enemy used to make fun of him by saying that "an egg can fall out of his pocket without breaking". The Emir replied that "... the smallest pen can record everything in the Universe". In 1608, The Emir made a trade pact with the Italian State of Tuscany. In 1610, the first printing press of the empire was built in Lebanon, in the Monastery of Qozhaya, in the Kadisha valley, using "Syriac" characters, a language close to that of the Aramaic that Jesus Christ spoke.
Emir Fakhr el-Dine is considered the founder of modern Lebanon. In 1613, the army of the Wali of Damascus invaded the region. Fakhr el-Dine fled to Italy, but returned after five years of exile, and re-conquered his emirate. His victory was such that the Ottoman Sultan gave him the tile of "sultan el-barr". But Fakhr el-Dine became too powerful, and in 1633 Fakhr el-Dine was captured and imprisoned in Istanbul. He was executed two years later.
The Chehab family succeed to the Ma'an, and Emir Bashir Chehab was their first prince, and he was Sunnite. He and his successors governed the region in relative peace. From about 1750 onwards, various emirs of the Chehab and the Abillama' families converting to Christianity, with Emir Bashir Chehab II becoming the first governing prince of the region to be a Christian (Maronite) in 1788. He built a magnificent palace at Beit el-Dine, many roads, and planted a fine pine forest on the hills overlooking Beirut. But, he was defeated by an army composed of English, Austrians, and Ottomans soldiers, and went into exile after 52 years of reign. He died in Istanbul. His successor, Bashir III Chehab was appointed by the Ottoman, and was Christian too. He was the last of the Princes of Mount Lebanon, as a new officer of the Ottoman army Omar Pasha became the new governor of the mountains in 1842.
The "Mutassarrifiya" of Independent Mount Lebanon -- 1861
In the middle part of the 19th Century, severe problems happened amongst the people of Mount Lebanon. The Ottomans did not intervene until after many thousands were killed, and French troops landed in Beirut. The Ottoman Sultan sent a representative to Lebanon to discuss a possible solution with delegates from France, Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia (Ancient Germany).
As a result, Mount Lebanon became an independent Ottoman province, called a Mutassarrifiya, with a Governor. Daoud Pasha -a Christian- was the first of eight governors to rule Lebanon until World War I. Under this new arrangement, Beirut progressed not only economically, but culturally as well. Starting in 1860, education became widespread again with the help of European and American "missionaries". The Saint Joseph University and the American University of Beirut were founded , and new printing presses were put to work to publish the many books and newspapers produced by the literary Corps.
As a result of this newfound freedom of expression, a literary movement was born in Beirut, known as the Nahda. It provided the basis of a cultural revival of the Arabic language. Beirut became the cultural center of the Middle East. The Bible was translated in Arabic. The first Arabic Encyclopedia was compiled in Beirut by Butros Bustany.
With the turn of the century, the Ottoman Tramway and the Lighting Company of Beirut were founded as the first of their kind in the area in 19060. In 1913, the first plane flown to Lebanon landed in Tripoli (North Lebanon) on December 24th, and in Beirut on Christmas Day. But the population became too dense for such a small country, and the first wave of emigration from Lebanon to Egypt, Africa and the Americas occurred. Many emigrants became rich in their new countries and sent lot's of money back to their relatives in Lebanon. One famous Lebanese emigrants is Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the author of "Prophet", which he wrote in the United States.
Unfortunately, World War I broke out in 1924, with the Ottoman Empire siding with the Germans and the Austrians. The Ottoman Army abolished the Mutassarrifiya and appointed a Moslem Ottoman governor. Famine spread in Lebanon and Syria due to a naval blockade and the destruction of crops by locusts.
The French, British and Americans were victorious in WWI, the Ottoman Empire abolished, and France was entrusted with the Mandate over Lebanon and Syria.
The Birth of Today's Lebanon
In 1920, the French proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon in Beirut, which included Mount Lebanon, the Beka'a, Wadi el-Taym (Taym Valley), Jabal Amel (Mount Amel), Sur, Saida, Beirut and Tripoli. Starting in 1922, the Lebanese elected a local Representative Council, which drew up the Lebanese Constitution under French supervision.
This Constitution became the law of the land, and was approved by the French in 1926. It defined the borders of Greater Lebanon which it renamed the Republic of Lebanon, as a "united, independent, indivisible and absolutely sovereign State" (Article 1), with all citizens equal under the law -men and women-. Executive power was given to the President of the Republic, assisted by a Cabinet of Ministers (similar to the American "Secretaries" of State, etc..). Legislative power was held by the Parliament (like the Congress). Parliament members were democratically elected by the people. The Parliament elected the President, who appointed the Prime Minister who, in turn, chooses Cabinet members.
The first President of Lebanon was Charles Debbas, who was elected in 1926 still under the French Mandate. It is not until 1943 that Lebanon became fully independent, during World War II. Until then, France suspended the Constitution whenever it felt like it! Beshara el-Khouri was elected the first President of Free Lebanon (although he really was the third one elected since the creation of modern Lebanon, Emile Eddeh being the second one. In the mean time, three other presidents were "appointed" by the French: Alfred Naccash, Ayyub Tabet, and Petro Trad).
President Beshara el-Khouri called on a Moslem Sunnite, Ryad el-Solh to form a Cabinet of Ministers. Together, these two men created the National Pact, a verbal agreement between these two men, that was never written down. The National Pact defined Lebanon as an independent country with an "Arabic aspect" -and not an Arabic country-. The President was to be a Christian Maronite, the Prime Minister a Moslem Sunnite, and the President of the Parliament a Moslem Shi'ite. All religions were to be given positions in the Cabinet, and the importance of the position held was linked to the relative size of the religious communities. In this manner, Lebanon would not have one official religion, but all religions would be recognized and represented. Lebanon's civil law was written in a way to allow the application of religious laws over the members of that religion alone.
Lebanon was amongst the founding members of the United Nations, and the Arab League. A Lebanese scholar, Dr Charles Malek was appointed to head the team that wrote the Charter of Human Rights for the United Nations. Beirut enjoyed a period of prosperity fueled by "Petro-Dollars" sent home by the Lebanese engineers and businessmen of the Arabic Gulf region (the Persian Gulf). However, problems started again in 1958, and later on in 1975, date of the beginning of the latest war in Lebanon.
Today, Lebanon is occupied, mainly by Israel and Syria. The Constitution has been "changed", and the economical and educational situations are ruined. But as you can see from all of the examples of history listed to you above: The occupant will end up packing and leaving, for Lebanon is eternal……